Thursday, May 03, 2007

I guess Albert never cared that much for Josh.

So as the Cards continue to lose—again last night to the streaking Brewers—predictably, much of the tenor of the coverage is like so, linking the team's plight to the loss of pitcher Josh Hancock. It is true that St. Louis has not won any of the three games since Hancock's untimely death. It is also true that they lost the two games immediately preceding his death as well, and have, in fact, been playing poorly the entire season thus far, Hancock or no Hancock. Among other things, the cornerstone of their batting order, the (normally) unstoppable Albert Pujols, was off to a lousy start. Albert actually began hitting better shortly before Hancock's fatal accident, and his recovery ongoes in the games since. He got three hits last night.

Look, I don't want to seem insensitive or make a mountain out of a Sportsthink mole-hill; we already invest far too much of our brainpower and emotional energy into sports in this country as it is. I just think this is an object lesson in how, throughout American society, we feel the need to contrive lofty explanations for things that may have no explanation (at least, not one that we can know, or do anything about). We overintellectualize and label everything. Here's just one minor, non-sports example that comes to mind: Used to be that boys who ran amok and couldn't seem to pay attention for more than two minutes at a time were, well, being boys. Now they've got Attention-Deficit Disorder. And we medicate them.

The problem with jumping to conclusions is that we constantly misguide ourselves; we leave ourselves vulnerable to flawed thinking and wind up taking "corrective" actions that may have nothing to do with the root problem. If indeed there is a problem. Once you decide that you know what's responsible for something, you stop looking for other answers, in much the same way that a homicide cop who thinks he's found his perp stops looking for other suspects and—worse—begins forcing all subsequent evidence to conform to his newfound theory of the crime. That is a serious mistake in criminal justice: Many men erroneously on Texas' death row would tell you as much. And it's a serious mistake in the rest of life as well.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with you that there's no connection between sports and life, but I definitely agree that we make way too much out of every last thing that happens. Everything is some syndrome or disorder. Like the old line, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Your blog is interesting, I will order your book.

Keith Ramo

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Keith. I certainly don't expect everybody to agree about everything. The point is that we're all thinking and talking instead of just flying (and buying) blind.

Cal said...

In my opinion, I think part of the reason that we name a malady for everything is that most people don't really understand scientific methodology. I tend to blame the scientific community for this, although I know some people try to talk in plain English. These pseudo-diseases may be a way to connect with the common person. I guess people feel smarter if they can diagnose their own or other people's problems. I see similar problems with the legal profession.

Maybe this is all part of the "dumbing down" of American culture. I just attribute a lot of this to intellectual laziness. Maybe it's because people don't have the time to develop meaningful relationships with their family and/or friends. We tend to want the sizzle and not the steak.

I admit when I watch Dr. Phil or Oprah that I can get sucked in. But I know when Dr. Phil says "we gave so and so a lie detector test that has been proven to be 94% accurate" or Oprah is hawking the latest diet craze that my BS detector goes up.

It's kind of like your chapter in SHAM of "You Are All Diseased". Every bad situation (or good) has to have a moniker attached to it. Why can't people be flawed and be OK? I worry that more and more people are becoming robots with hollow cores. That is why I'm not surprised anymore when someone does something horrible and the response is "we thought we knew him/her, but it turns out we really didn't". I dunno, but the Virginia Tech shooter was an anomaly to me in that sense. He showed all the signs.

BTW, Steve, if you had to do it all over again would you let your son play Little League with the way it has deteriorated in the benefits to young boys (i.e, crazy parents or unqualified coaches)? Or would you wait until he was an adolescent to let him play organized sports?

Anonymous said...

It sure would be nice if there was more meaning and purpose to life. So many things just need done, and so many things happen at random.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, you make excellent points. I especially like your concept of "flawed but OK." If I ever found myself writing a personal ad, I think that's precisely how I'd begin, if not the actual title I'd choose: "Flawed but OK"....

Would I let my son play Little League? For me, the larger question would be: "Would I COACH my son in Little League again?" That was a serious tactical error I do not think I'd repeat. One of the most commented-on pieces I've ever done was for Sports Illustrated, about that phenomenon exactly--the singular trials, tribulations and pitfalls of the father/son coaching relationship (at least as it played out in my house). In fact, of all things, it wound up being reprinted in "Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul"!

Meanwhile, Anon, though I get the mood of your question, I don't think you said exactly what you meant to. Care to restate?

Cal said...


I was able to access the story. It was very interesting. My Dad was only an assistant on one of my teams, but I can see some of the similarities. I wasn't a good hitter and my father really didn't know how to teach me to get better. He was an older Dad and really didn't have the arm to throw me batting practice and cages weren't around in my area then. Also the other kids in my neighborhood weren't into baseball, so I couldn't get practice that way. I was stuck with the batting tee or a machine I had that threw plastic baseballs.

BTW, did you name him after the great Yankees 3rd baseman? I also saw your article in another publication about your disappointment that he liked basketball better. I know he's an adult now, but is that still the case?

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, I wouldn't exactly say I "named him" after Nettles, but my wife and I always liked the name, and I admired Nettles' swing. Of course, this sentenced my son to a lifetime of being called "Craig" (or having his name mispelled "Greg") by just about everyone he knew/knows. From what I hear, Nettles himself suffered much the same misfortune.

Basketball turned out to be more of a phase for my son. He returned ultimately to baseball--as I guess I knew he would. Probably could've been one hell of a lefty pitcher, too, had his shoulder not failed him. He now roots fanatically for the Yankees.

Cal said...

The Cards have decided to ban alcohol after it was discovered that Hancock was legally drunk. I guess they had to make a preemptive PR move. Instead, the players will go to the bars and drink. In fact, the news report indicated that several people saw him drinking at a bar. Will they ban players from going to bars also?!! What would the MLBPA say? OK!...Yeah, right. What about the weed in his car? I guess the bargaining agreement allows steroids test, but not for marijuana. I know marijuana isn't a performance enhancer, but I would want someone high throwing a 90 plus mph fastball at me. This is another case of a quick "solution" to what, so far, only seems like an isolated problem.

Steve Salerno said...

In a broader sense, Cal--and this is another one of those comments that should really be handled in a much "bigger format" than a blog entry--the problem you wryly cite illustrates one of my pet peeves with unions and, in fact, all types of collectives where people band together for a common purpose. It usually starts out with the noble goal of righting some wrong--as the MLBPA did, back in the Curt Flood era, when players were woefully underpaid and treated like slaves. But having dealt with those most serious formative grievances, the collective does not disband. Instead it begins wielding its power in a more haphazard, bullying, arrogantly self-protective way, attempting to orchestrate all sorts of policies that favor its members and block ANY outside interference that members perceive as an infringement on their so-called rights. This is exactly what happened with the baseball player's union under Marvin Miller and later Don Fehr. Aside from pushing salaries into the stratosphere--taking what was always the "family man's game" away from the family man--this phenomenon is a large part of the reason why it took so long for baseball to take any meaningful steps against steroids. Widening the lens, this also helps explain how the UAW over the past half-century all but drove Detroit's erstwhile Big 3 into insolvency by making outrageous financial demands, essentially institutionalizing laziness and a lack of accountability into the car-making process, etc. The irony is that is in the end, the UAW was like a parasite that kills its host: By playing its leading role in decimating the once-proud U.S. auto industry, the union self-destructed, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs, emptying out pension funds, etc.